Welcome to the inaugural Tipsy Tuesday here at the Mess!
I went back and forth for awhile on what a good starting cocktail would be, but honestly I was overthinking the whole thing and worrying a bit too much about "the perfect first cocktail." So I figured I would shelve the idea for the present and come back to it after the new year. And wouldn't you know, that's when the muse struck.
I knew all along that I wanted it to involve Fernet-Branca. Fernet (pronounced "net" rather than "nay") is an Italian amaro digestif with a powerful, slightly bitter herbal flavor. With a base of grape distilled spirits, it typically contains somewhere in the range of 27 herbs and spices, including myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron, though this can vary. I'm a sucker for anything herbal, so this was a win-win-win-win-win-win-(there are too many herbs to keep this up)-win-win brew for me. Also, can we just take a second to acknowledge that Fernet has what is probably the coolest label in the liquor store?
My husband is a huge Fernet fan - or rather, he's just a huge amaro fan in general, but Fernet is the ruling love at the moment. Which is fortunate since Fernet is (at least of the ones I've tried) the only amaro I really enjoy. I always get excited about the descriptions of other varieties, but so far they have tended to be just a little too sweet for me. Fernet hits that perfect middle ground and the prominence of the piney herbs leaves a bright, fresh aftertaste rather than a sweet coating on your tongue. It's really the perfect after dinner sipper.
Sometime last year, Aaron ran across an article detailing how a local brewery, Forbidden Root, was partnering with Fernet-Branca to create a botanical beer with those same flavors. An imperial black ale that tastes like Fernet?! That's pretty much the dream. So the quest was on: find that brewery and taste that beer! We achieved the former, but found out when we got to the brewery a couple months later that they sold out of Fernetic the day it released.
Enter the hero of our story: the local Binny's beer specialist. I strolled into the store one weekend in an attempt to find an English bitter to bring home as a surprise. Having struck out on that search, I ended up chatting with the man on duty in the beer section. The English bitter led to botanical bitters, which led to botanical beers, which of course led straight to Forbidden Root. I told him about that holy grail of botanical beer goodness (Fernetic) and he too was bitten by the quest. He searched the full Binny's database and at last tracked down a single store in Chicago that was sitting on a small hoard of this elusive nectar of the gods. He called them up and talked them into holding two bottles of it until we could drop in the next weekend and retrieve our spoils. And guys, it was amazing.
We're still sitting on that second bottle because we can't bring ourselves to drink it without a special occasion. Which in this case turned out to be a lucky case of hoarding because I was sipping on some hot cider the other day and saw the bottle of Fernetic on our bar cart. That set me off wondering again about what else would pair well with Fernet's flavors and hey presto, the cider in my mug raised its hand and said try me! So here we are. Sentient cider and all.
fernet about it (a hot toddy)
yield: one cocktail
3 oz spiced cider
Small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Drizzle of honey
1½ oz bourbon or rye
½ ounce Fernet-Branca
2 dashes angostura bitters
lemon twist for garnish
In a small saucepan, warm the spiced cider over medium heat until nearly simmering.
Once it is heated through, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the remaining ingredients.
Stir gently to combine, then pour into your grandma's china (or any other mug of your choosing) and serve garnished with a lemon twist.